New community garden takes root at Cupertino Park

July 5, 2016

By Sheila Julson

The 25 new community garden plots on the corner of Shore Drive and Ontario Street are flooded with many hours of unobstructed sunlight. PHOTO Katherine Keller

The 25 new community garden plots on the corner of Shore Drive and Ontario Street are flooded with many hours of unobstructed sunlight. PHOTO Katherine Keller

Those passing by the bluff of Cupertino Park on the northeast corner of Shore Drive and Ontario Street will notice a bounty of vegetables and flowers flourishing under the summer sun.

Cupertino Community Garden, directly east of Bay View Terrace, consists of 25 four-by-eight foot raised beds. Five of those are approximately 30 inches tall, significantly higher than the others, to make those plots wheelchair accessible.

Bay View’s newest community garden was created in response to the desire of residents in the vicinity of Cupertino Park to have a garden space. The project’s leaders partnered with Groundwork Milwaukee, UW-Extension, and Milwaukee County’s Sowing, Empowering, and Eliminating Deserts of Food (SEED) program.

Cupertino Park is a 7.5 acre Milwaukee County Park on the bluff between Russell Avenue and Ontario Street that spills down along the waterfront on Lake Michigan. Bay View Terrace resident Joe Walsh spearheaded the idea for the Cupertino garden. He observed that the south end of the parkland on the bluff was very advantageous for growing because it benefits from many hours of direct sunlight. Another benefit is water access. There is a fire hydrant on the east side of Shore Drive at Ontario. Fire hydrants are fitted with adaptors by the Department of Public Works to provide tap/hose access to community gardens.

Last fall Walsh began asking his neighbors if they’d be interested in a small community garden.

Walsh reached out to Antoine Carter, program manager of Milwaukee Urban Gardens (MUG), a program of Groundwork Milwaukee.

Groundwork Milwaukee is part of Groundwork USA, a network of independent, not-for-profit environmental businesses called Groundwork Trusts. These trusts are locally controlled and offer cost-efficient project development services designed to improve the health and economy of its communities.

There are 90 community gardens under Groundwork Milwaukee’s purview, Carter said. His organization advises and assists garden organizers in other ways, such as obtaining fire hydrant permits, liability insurance, and providing workers to help community gardens with large projects such as distributing mulch or soil.

Other Groundwork Milwaukee community gardens in the Bay View area include Village Roots near Beulah Brinton Community Center, and the Hide House Community Garden at Greeley Street and Deer Place.

“Groundwork Milwaukee’s role is to be a first point of contact for any group looking to start a community garden,” Carter said, “What we do is provide a fast track to activating a space. Because we have a leasing agreement with the city, we lease lots from the city and then lease those to garden groups. That allows us to also provide insurance. While we’re providing insurance, we also like to stay involved with any technical support for growing and community engagement.”

Carter met with the Cupertino project’s leaders to assess their needs and overall goals. “Because they were interested in using county park land — most of our gardens are on vacant lots owned by the city or private owners, we decided it would be good to partner with UW-Extension and the SEED program to assist with design and help with logistics for the garden,” he said.

Walsh and Ryan Schone, food system coordinator for UW-Extension, canvassed the Cupertino Park vicinity to gauge interest in a community garden. Schone emphasized the importance of community engagement. He said that means gathering opinions and keeping residents involved, versus a top-down approach where an organization just comes into an area and builds garden beds with the hope that residents will support the new garden.

Approximately 35 to 40 people attended a forum in January at South Shore Park Pavilion. Not everyone supported the garden. There was some pushback from residents who objected to using Milwaukee County Park space for the gardens or who worried community gardens might not be well-tended and would become unsightly.

“The response was quite positive,” Schone said. “There were some concerns, but we overall addressed that. It was very evident that the community was getting behind it, with no major red flags.”

He noted that the area in Cupertino Park where the garden is located isn’t as heavily used as some parks, South Shore, for example, but despite that, he said they left a large portion of space north of the new garden plots open for recreation.

SEED funding covered much of the costs, Schone said. Other costs are covered by support from community partners such as Groundwork Milwaukee and by garden plot rental fees.

Milwaukee County Board Supervisor Marina Dimitrijevic helped sponsor the three-tiered SEED (Sowing, Empowering, and Eliminating Deserts of Food) resolution that was adopted last year. The goals of the program are working with community partners to eliminate food deserts by growing produce in neighborhoods with little access to fresh vegetables and fruit, increasing the number of community gardens, and planting fruit orchards.

Through the SEED program, Milwaukee County will partner with the Hunger Task Force, Growing Power, and UW-Extension. Hunger Task Force will operate a Mobile Market within the county to serve residents who live in food deserts and coordinate with the existing Stockbox delivery program to seniors. “Our goal is to create a million square feet of community garden space throughout Milwaukee County,” said Ryan Schone, food systems coordinator for UW-Extension. They’re working on eight new garden sites this year, but two of those may not launch until next year.

The raised bed gardens were installed shortly before Memorial Day weekend. Approximately 15 to 20 volunteers performed the work, Carter said. Bliffert Lumber and Hardware donated some of the boards that frame the plots. Soil was purchased from Blue Ribbon Organics.

No gardener has more than one plot this year, Schone said. Each paid $20 for the plot and the price included water. There were five people on the waiting list who did not receive a plot this year.

“Cupertino has an active group of people dedicated to the overall success of the garden,” Carter said. “Urban agriculture has really grown in the city and because there are so many vacant lots, it provides a great space for change. We’re happy to be a part of it and help people transform unused space into something they really want to enjoy.”

“The garden is not exclusive to Bay View Terrace residents,” Walsh emphasized. ‘It’s a community garden and for use for some people from the Terrace, but it’s also for the community.”

 Sheila Julson is a freelance writer and contributor to the Bay View Compass.

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